Pipetting in the lab

What we do: for health and wealth

Intro

At the Crick, we help translate scientific research into treatments and technologies to improve the lives of people in the UK and internationally.

We often support opportunities to form new businesses which boost the supply of highly skilled people across the economy, and help reinforce the UK's position at the forefront of global innovation in the life sciences.

On this page

Therapeutics and diagnostics

New treatments for devastating conditions, such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, take years and millions of pounds. By working closely with industry partners, the Crick aims to accelerate our research discoveries into the clinic for the benefit of patients in the UK and worldwide.

There are a number of therapies being explored, from the earliest stages of drug discovery, to clinical trials in patients. These include small molecule, antibody, antisense, cell and gene therapy drugs.

Our researchers are also leaders in biomarker discovery and new imaging techniques, pioneering new ways to diagnose and stratify patients with different diseases and opening new opportunities for personalised medicine.

Examples of our translational work on therapeutics and diagnostics

Case study

Predicting active vs latent TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of mortality from infectious disease – there are 8.6 million cases globally each year, causing around 1.6 million deaths.

Many people are infected or exposed to a form of the bacterial infection called latent TB. These people can be asymptomatic, making the disease hard to diagnose as it progresses over a number of months. Others never develop active disease.

Led by Anne O’Garra, a team of Crick researchers has been examining how the body responds during the early stages of the disease, and have developed tests to predict and prevent the worsening of symptoms in the most vulnerable patients.

In collaboration with clinicians in Leicester and Biomerieux, a clinical study was set up to monitor active TB patients and their contacts. This led to the identification of molecular biomarkers distinguishing patients with active or latent TB infection.

The team also identified several signatures that could be used to monitor treatment and distinguish between those that respond early or later, addressing an important unmet need for developing new drugs.

Case study

Taking on the term ‘undruggable’

A team of researchers led by Dinis Calado, from the Crick’s Immunity and Cancer Laboratory, and Ed Tate, a chemist from Imperial College London with a satellite group at the Crick, is working on developing drugs to target currently untreatable cancers.

Over the past four years, the team has been studying pathways discovered in the Tate Lab, which support B-cell lymphoma growth, and developing a novel method to block these pathways.

Together with support from the platforms and facilities at the Crick, the team found that blocking N-myristoyltransferase (NMT) can kill cancerous cells driven by the gene MYC. MYC plays a role in a number of untreatable cancers and there are currently no MYC-targeting drugs available. The team has progressed its discovery, developing a spin-out company and gaining private investment. The team won the Crick’s Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation in 2019.

Technologies

The Crick brings together experts in biology, medicine, chemistry, data sciences, physics and engineering. The tools and technologies they create to carry out their innovative research have the potential to improve future studies and open up new research avenues.

Examples of our translational work on technology

Case study

A microscope within a microscope

No single microscope can image all aspects of a sample at the same time and so the use of two or more imaging methods to study a sample - correlative imaging - is common-place.

Lucy Collinson leads the Electron Microscopy Science Technology Platform at Crick and, by collaborating with instrument manufacturers, her team has taken the technology a step further.

They have developed a new way to image structures that overcomes the limitations of existing technology. They have done this by putting a fluorescent light microscope within an electron microscope.

The protocol preserves the fluorescent proteins that light up under the light microscope, while staining and embedding the sample so that cells can be seen in the electron microscope and withstand the vacuum environment. This allows researchers to image samples in one machine - an integrated light and electron microscope.

Case study

Plasma protein platform technology

Markus Ralser, and his team in the Molecular Biology of Metabolism Laboratory,

have created a fast, cheap and reliable platform technology that can measure the levels of protein in blood plasma. Until now, similar technologies have been held back due to slowness and unreliability.

Their work means that a human sample can be tested, at low cost, in less than five minutes. Measuring the levels of protein in blood plasma can be used to predict how a patient will respond to certain treatments – their molecular signature.

This data can then be coupled with a machine-learning workflow to predict population heterogeneity (diversity/variation). A collaboration with the MRC Epidemiology unit aims to predict the prevalence of metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

The research was made possible through the support of two internal Crick translational grants, and support from Barbara Domayne-Hayman, the Crick’s Entrepreneur in Residence, who provided the team with expertise, advice on commercialisation, and relevant commercial connections.

Patents and licensing

By licensing our intellectual property, we make sure that knowledge developed at the Crick can benefit people’s health through commercial products or services.

Our approach reflects a long-term partnership perspective with a focus on maximising impact. We believe that licence fees and premature development requirements can stifle innovation and slow down progress on a project.

We want to recognise a company’s success with late-stage clinical milestones and royalties, rather than a requirement for short-term profitability. We have a ‘rewards to innovators’ programme, so inventors will reap the long-term benefits of their discoveries through royalties and shares in any spin-out companies.

Example of our work on patents and licensing

Case study

Recording brain activity

A new method to accurately record brain activity at scale has been developed by researchers at the Crick, Stanford University and UCL.

Their research in mice showed they could record brain activity across large areas, including on the surface and in deeper regions simultaneously. 

Using the latest in electronics and engineering techniques, the new device combines silicon chip technology with super-slim microwires, up to 15-times thinner than a human hair. The wires are so thin they can be placed deep in the brain without causing significant damage.

Alongside its ability to accurately monitor brain activity, the device could also be used to inject electrical signals into precise areas of the brain. It could lead to tech that can pass a signal from the brain to a machine, helping those with amputations to control a prosthetic limb to shake a hand or stand up. It could also be used to create electrical signals in the brain when neurons are damaged and aren’t firing themselves, such as in motor neurone disease.

The team’s work is the basis for a fully integrated brain computer interface system that is being developed by Paradromics. The Texas-based company is working to develop a medical device platform that will improve the lives of people with critical conditions, including paralysis, sensory impairment and drug resistant neuropsychiatric diseases.

Spin-out companies

A spin-out company can be the best way to assemble a team of dedicated scientists and experts and attract the significant investment needed to develop a technology. We have all the necessary support and expertise in-house to form new companies and long-term partnerships.

Eight companies have been developed from Crick science, each progressing discoveries from across cell therapy, vaccine, medical technology and small molecule therapeutics. They employ over 300 people and have raised more than £350m in follow-on investment.

Our oncology companies have established UK research and development (R&D) teams, running clinical trials in the UK, and enabling the exchange of knowledge and secondments between academia and industry.

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